Earlier today on the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), who is of Puerto Rican descent, gave his colleagues a history lesson about Puerto Rico and its current debt crisis:
The following were the prepared remarks Gutiérrez’s office released to the press:
I want to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker and my colleagues, this is the beautiful Island of Puerto Rico.
We own it. It is ours and we are responsible for it.
The Congress of the United States governs this island. It is our colony and we rule over it.
And it is $73 billion dollars in debt.
The Supreme Court said, “Puerto Rico is a territory …belonging to the United States, but not a part of the United States.”
And apparently, the responsibility to govern Puerto Rico falls to the Congress and not to the Executive Branch, because for the last six months or more, I have talked with Obama Administration officials at every level about Puerto Rico and their response has been that they cannot or will not do anything.
The message I received loud and clear—anything to help Puerto Rico had better happen in Congress.
But there is no sense of urgency in Congress or anywhere else in Washington for real solutions.
Puerto Rico’s problems are complicated and I am here to say that the Puerto Rican people must begin putting direct pressure on this Congress for action because Puerto Rico’s problems are mostly the creation of …you guessed it… Congress.
The Jones Act of 1917 made all Puerto Ricans citizens—just in time for World War I when 18,000 new draftees were needed.
The Jones Act also says that Puerto Rico –unlike any state– can issue triple-exempt bonds. Bonds that are free of federal, state and local taxes. Illinois can’t do that, neither can your state.
But Puerto Rico was specifically written out of U.S. bankruptcy laws by Congress. They cannot declare Chapter 9 or anything else because a special exemption was made.
So Congress creates a tax-free bond haven and Wall Street jumps in with everything it has to buy Puerto Rican debt decade after decade.
Puerto Rico has more than 15 times the median bond debt of all 50 states and bankruptcy is not an option without an Act of Congress.
And get this—the Puerto Rican Constitution says that bond holders must be paid before everything else.
Right now, Wall Street is circling the wounded animal like vultures waiting to get their piece.
And they are fighting against a bill that would allow Puerto Rico –like any other jurisdiction– to declare bankruptcy because that could move decisions about who gets paid and in what order they get paid into a U.S. court of law.
You see, the current situation favors the billionaires and the hedge funds because they will get paid before the cops on the beat, the doctors in the hospitals, and the teachers in the schools.
Oh, we can’t investigate that crime or take down that drug dealer because we have to pay the bond holders first.
Now the same people who cash in on debt in places like Greece and Argentina are lining up to cash in in the Caribbean by stepping up their demands for austerity measures, privatization of utilities, and restructuring on their terms that will make them very, very rich at the expense of the Puerto Rican people.
Tomorrow, I will discuss how the Puerto Rican people are being distracted by the promises of Statehood by every politician who travels to San Juan or needs the votes of Puerto Ricans in Orlando.
But today, I want to make clear that the sooner the people here [in Puerto Rico] realize the people here in this Chamber are the ones who need to take action, the sooner we can make real progress and not get distracted by politics and pipedreams of statehood.
So for my remaining minute I want to address the people of Puerto Rico directly in the language they speak around the dinner table.
A united Puerto Rico must make this Congress Act.
Ya es hora de que todos pongan a un lado divisiones políticas.
He hablado con la Administración de Obama y ellos no van a ayudar a Puerto Rico.
Los dueños de bonos están haciendo fila para recibir sus pagos aun cuando el resto de Puerto Rico se derrumba.
Wall Street está comprando la deuda de Puerto Rico para poder exigir medidas de austeridad, rebajes de impuestos, y la privatización de las industrias que llenarán sus bolsillos con más dinero.
Cualquiera que sea el plan de Washington o de Wall Street no pondrá las necesidades de la gente de Puerto Rico primero- todos sabemos eso.
Entonces, ¿cuál es el plan de Puerto Rico unido para seguir adelante?
Los Boricuas deben involucrarse en este momento para que Puerto Rico tenga un plan de economía que pueda crear empleos y no seguir empujando a los jóvenes fuera de la isla para los Estados Unidos en Jet Blue.
El único lugar donde podemos buscar ayuda es aquí en el Congreso, tenemos que hacer que este Congreso cumpla.
Voy a hablar más sobre esto y de la distracción de la cuestión del estatus de la Isla mañana.
Pero por ahora quiero que los puertorriqueños pongan sus ideas en conjunto.
Vayan a mi página de Facebook – Rep. Gutiérrez en Facebook – y empecemos a organizar un plan para hacer que este Congreso cumpla.
Thank you. I yield back.
[TRANSLATION OF SPANISH SECTION]
It is time for everyone to put political divisions aside.
I have talked to the Obama Administration and they will do nothing to help Puerto Rico.
The bond-holders are lining up to get paid even if the rest of Puerto Rico collapses.
Wall Street is buying up Puerto Rican debt so that they can demand austerity measures, tax-breaks, and privatization of industries that will fill their pockets with even more money.
Whatever plan is invented in Washington or on Wall Street will not put the needs of the Puerto Rican people first – we all know that.
So what is a unified Puerto Rico’s plan to move forward?
Boricuas must step up right now so that Puerto Rico has a plan for the economy that will create jobs and not just drive young people off of the island to the U.S. on Jet Blue.
The only place we can seek help is right here in Congress; we need to make this Congress act.
I will talk more about this and the Island’s the distraction of the status question tomorrow.
But right now I want Puerto Ricans to put their ideas together.
Go to my Facebook page –Rep. Gutierrez on Facebook– and let’s begin working on a plan to get Congress to act.